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Many of the 42 million Americans flying this holiday season will board planes this weekend. And they are flying during a season of debate over airline rules.

GREENE: Yesterday, we told you about the Federal Aviation Administration facing calls to relax its rules on using e-readers, like the Kindle. Today, the hassle of getting through those often long security lines at the airport.

INSKEEP: The Transportation Security Administration has a few tips on how to get through more quickly, but critics wonder why the government is so intrusive to begin with. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: For the tips, we turn to the TSA's Lisa Farbstein, who meets us at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington. As Christmas carols serenade us, Farbstein reaches into a bag of props and pulls out a snow globe. Yes, there's some good news this holiday season. You can now carry on small snow globes, as long as they are put in those plastic bags along with your other small bottles of liquids.

LISA FARBSTEIN: Here's my 3-1-1 bag. You can see I have a little snow globe right in there - a little Washington, D.C. snow globe of the White House. Yeah. And I have here to show you a tennis ball. And so you can see that clearly it is smaller than a tennis ball.

NAYLOR: So snow globes smaller than a tennis ball are now OK to bring on board. And by the way, so are pies and fruitcakes. But not jars of jam or jelly or cranberry sauce over 3.4 ounces. They must be put in your checked luggage. The rule of thumb, says Farbstein...

FARBSTEIN: Basically, if you can spill it, spread it, smear it, squeeze it, spray it, pump it or pour it, that's how you can tell.

NAYLOR: Farbstein says there's a useful guide on the TSA's website, TSA.gov, that allows you to type in an item to see if it's allowed in your carry-on. And also a mobile app.

Other advice, wrapped presents aren't such a good idea, because if the TSA officers can't tell what's in the box, they'll want to unwrap it. Farbstein suggests using gift bags. And new this year - if you're traveling with children under 12, they don't have to take off their shoes. Neither do you if you're 75 and older.

FARBSTEIN: We recognize that they're not likely to be terrorists, and so we allow them to leave their shoes on. That expedites the screening process. I think basically we do know that not everybody is a terrorist. I mean we totally understand that.

NAYLOR: But the TSA's critics say they don't really understand that. Charlie Leocha is director of the Consumer Travel Alliance.

CHARLIE LEOCHA: These kinds of rules really don't make any sense today. And we spend literally millions and millions of dollars searching for items now which are of no harm.

NAYLOR: After 9/11 the government ordered airlines to install hardened locked doors to the cockpit. Leocha says that pretty much eliminated the danger from small pocketknives, box cutters and the like. So, he says, those intrusive searches at airport checkpoints are totally unnecessary.

LEOCHA: You can't break into the cockpits anymore. They get locked up and the pilots are safe. And we have an incredible intelligence operation going on which now allows the government to screen every passenger for every flight against a terrorist watch list.

NAYLOR: Leocha says the TSA should go back to using standard metal detectors at security checkpoints rather than the full body scanners which have raised concerns about privacy and safety. But for now, holiday air travelers have no choice but to prepare themselves. So remember, you can carry on a small snow globe, but that gift jar of cherry preserves will have to be in a checked bag.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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